I FOUND KAY FRANCIS!
And where our writer found her, and how, and what she said, makes the most amusing story you’ve ever read about the star sophisticate.
By Margaret Angus.
Screenland, January, 1936.
THE first time I met Kay Francis in the flesh she was taking a bath, and was very much in the flesh. Quite pretty, too. It was last summer and the rumors were getting about that Warner Brothers’ most glamorous star was falling in love again, and with writer Delmer Daves, and naturally Mag the Snoop couldn’t let things like that go on. Remind me to do something about curbing my curiosity sometime, it gets me into the strangest places.
Of course I couldn’t exactly picture the exotic Kay romancing with a studio writer, a typewriter pounder, no less. Kay is easily one of the most sophisticated and charming women in Hollywood, and when you think of men in connection with her, you visualize monocles, top hats, moonlight on the Riviera and champagne cocktails—certainly no pencil stubs, second sheets, smudges, and ten o’clock of a hot morning in Burbank. Why, only a few weeks before Kay had returned from a series of social triumphs abroad that would make a queen green with envy, for she had all the eligible males in London, Paris, and the Countess di Frasso’s Rome at her feet, offering her every kind of little tid-bit from a medieval title to a Castle in Scotland with a ghost in the left wing. And of course it was no secret that ever since her return a certain Italian nobleman, introduced by the Countess di Frasso who is one of Kay’s best friends, had called frantically and eloquently over long distance from Rome every few nights. Yes, there must have been some mistake. As I recalled Delmar Daves he was anything but Old World. A rather studious looking young man, not handsome, but with a pleasing smile, who had been around Warner Brothers for a number of years scribbling out dialogue for the lads and lassies of the screen. How long he and Kay had known each other I do not know, but I do know that they did not start having “dates” until “Stranded,” which picture Kay starred in with George Brent, and which picture Daves wrote dialogue for. I am fairly reliably informed that they met on the “Stranded” set over a heated argument over Miss Francis’ lines.
Well, I pondered over the idiosyncrasies of the fate all the way out to the studio in Burbank and right into the publicity office. Would someone take me out to the Kay Francis set? Yes, the entire publicity department, down to the last man, would only be too happy to escort me to the Kay Francis set. Mercy, I was nearly bowled over by such attention, such eagerness, but I soon understood the reason for it all—alas, it was not my first lesson in charm taking effect, it was merely that Kay Francis was taking a bath on the set that morning, and breathes there a man with soul so dead, and so forth and so forth. The word certainly must have gotten around for when I arrived on the “Stranded” set with a body of publicity men interested in their art there were layers and layers of men; I do believe every prop boy had six assistants. Baths, I gather, are bright spots in a studio routine.
Did you ever wonder how movie stars take those baths that look so startling, so daring, on the screen? Now, I bet you did, Aunt Hattie. Well, I’ll tell you. When we arrived on the stage the property boy was making doubly sure that the supply of warm water in the tanks was sufficient to provide eight or nine “takes.” Kay Francis, all wrapped up in a yellow bath robe, her hair tucked securely in a white rubber cap, was pacing back and forth across the set, completely oblivious of the greatly augmented company which waited expectantly and silently, for her to take her bath.
The bath, it developed, was to be a shower. (Pshaw, said the publicity department. They like tubs better.) The shower stall was an enclosed rectangle the walls of which were opaque glass except for oval openings on each side five feet above the floor. It was through one of these “windows” that the bath was to be photographed. When all was ready Director Frank Borzage waved his hand, water spurted from the tank, and Kay loosened her robe and moved toward the glass door.
“Are you sure,” she demanded, “that there is plenty of warm water? I don’t want it to suddenly turn cold on me the way it did once before.”
The property boy assured her that everything was okay, so Kay swung the concealing glass door open until it stood between herself and everybody else, dropped her robe to the floor and stepped inside. A few seconds later her head and wet shoulders were framed in the oval window on which the cameras focused. Kay lathered her neck and shoulders in the most approved manner and started speaking her lines, (remember in “Stranded” where she talked to Patricia Ellis while taking a shower?), but she didn’t get far when she let out a terrible shriek. The director jumped, dozens of men got ready to spring to her assistance, and the mixer popped out of the monitor booth like a frightened rabbit. “Soap,” wailed Kay, “I’ve got soap in my eyes.” There was a great commotion while her maid, Ida, the wardrobe woman, the script girl and her hairdresser made a circle about Kay while she regained her composure and got the suds out of her eyes. Then, very unenthusiastically, resumed her bath, the men resumed their fascinated silence, the director resumed his chair, and the mixer resumed his duties of mixing shower noises and voices.
But it was not long before there was another shriek of anguish from the improvised shower room. It seemed that someone must have double-crossed Kay, for the water tank was running as cold as a mountain stream. I don’t blame Kay for being annoyed for there is nothing so disheartening as a cold shower when you are not expecting a cold shower. I decided that this was neither the time nor the place to interview Miss Francis about romance and Delmar Daves. A wet movie star can be just as cross as a wet hen. So I checked out.
Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, Aunt Hattie. Kay had on a bathing suit under the yellow robe. And now you know how movie stars bathe for the cinema.
Well, much water passed under the bridge, and out of Mr. Warner Brothers’ tank, before I had the occasion to interview Kay Francis again. Shortly after “Stranded” she packed up and went to Europe on an extended leave of absence, and there was much talk about her getting herself engaged to Maurice Chevalier who was in Paris at the time and to the Italian nobleman who had spent so much time on trans-Atlantic telephone calls. London, Paris, Rome and waltz-mad Vienne all got ready to do things up gay for the delightfully intoxicating Miss Francis, whom, the Europeans declared far more Continental than the Parisiennes themselves [webmaster’s note, “Parisiennes” is as it appears in the original text]. The princes started polishing up their titles and the dukes aired out their moldy castles and the Best Families invited Kay for a weekend at Tumbling Dawns or for a little cruise on the Mediterranean. Now Kay likes bridge and backgammon and tennis, and she likes to sun herself on the deck of a luxurious yacht; she likes long, leisurely European dinners and smart scintillating conversation; she likes gold braid and uniforms and the fuss they make over royalty in England; she likes dressing up like a million dollars going to the opera in Paris—in fact, Kay is quite a sophisticate at heart. But what she did do last summer in Europe? Why, she hardly got there before she turned around and came right back to Hollywood, with still several months to go on her vacation. Was Hollywood surprised! Ever since she has been in pictures Kay has spent her vacations in New York and Europe and has never shown her face in Hollywood until the cameras started turning on her net picture. Well, according to Kay, she didn’t have any fun in Europe this last time because she was sick, and she hurried home to Hollywood because she was sick. And Kay is probably telling the truth. But, old romanticist that I am, I prefer to believe that Delmar Daves had something to do with spending her real vacation in Hollywood and the mountains nearby.
He certainly met her at the train, as the photographers well noted (there’s some talk that he met her at the boat in New York), and every place Kay has made a public appearance since there has always been Delmar Daves. He was one of the exclusive few invited to her housewarming in October, and he was with her just the other night at the Hollywood preview of “I Found Stella Parish.” It is an old Hollywood custom that a star always takes the person she likes best to her previews, and the person whose opinion of her picture she values above all others. Well, draw your own conclusions, I’m drawing mine all right.
The second and last time I saw Kay was a couple of weeks ago, and it was at her home and I wasn’t invited to see her take a bath this time, but sat downstairs and waited and admired her living room—her entire house has just been done over by Tommy Douglas, who is not only a good actor but a good decorator. When she joined me she wore brown tailored pajamas and her hair had just been shampooed and set and was quite wet. Water, it seems, would always enter into my contacts with Miss Francis. And so for that matter would Delmar Daves. For just as you suspected, your Auntie Maggie was there to pry into Miss Francis’ romance. I didn’t do so well. Kay was gracious, indeed quite charming. But she didn’t give. May it be said to her glory that she did not hand me any hooey about “We are just good friends” or “I hardly know the person.” No, what she said was, “I never discuss my personal affairs,” and that, terse, dignified, and to the point. And after all, you do have to admire her for taking that stand. I never have respect for movie stars, male or female, who give out those interviews about “the women (or men) in my life.” Cheap, I calls it.
But Kay was perfectly willing to talk about anything else, and proceeded so to do. She flitted, with me puffing along behind, from recipes, to diets, to figures, to charm, to superstitions, to Europe, to Stella Parish, to men in general, to clothes, to operations, to old sherry—and there I stopped and had a glass and went home.
“I never diet,” Kay told me. “Maybe I will have to someday, but thank heavens I don’t have to now. I suppose the reason I don’t get fat is because I never over-eat, for I certainly eat anything and everything. In fact the things I like best would never be found on a reducing diet, but I go in for them just the same. I adore little thin hotcakes with maple syrup, and onion soup filled with cheese, hot fudge sundaes, and corn on the cob and popcorn and limburger cheese. Oh, and any kind of cheese, the smellier the better. No diet-harassed hostess ever has any trouble with me. I eat potatoes. I don’t drink coffee. Oh, I’m a cinch for any hostess. But perhaps she would not be so flattered if she could see me when I come home, for I usually raid the Frigidaire for bits of chicken and cheese and anchovy knickknacks.” (Oh, oh, she was driving me mad with envy—one good ice-box raid and I gain four pounds! Oh, the injustice of it all.)
But Kay prattled on, not knowing how near I was to slitting her throat. “My favorite dish is lamb chops. And I make a mushroom sauce for them that is divine. It’s all made of fresh mushrooms and cream and flour and Worcestershire sauce and Libeig’s seasoning and English mustard and salt and pepper and much tasting to see it’s all right. Umm, it’s good!” To save myself from the electric chair I decided to change the subject as quickly as possible.
Kay thinks the “ten most attractive male players on the screen” are Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Richard Barthlemess, Jimmy Cagney, Maurice Chevalier, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Jackie Cooper, Clark Gable, and William Powell. She leans towards the “man of the world” type, except for Cagney and Jackie Cooper. She thinks Jackie because he makes her cry. “Jimmie Cagney,” she said, “is really not my ideal type, but on the screen he fascinates me. But the man who thrills me the most on the screen is Ronnie Colman. Even after I made a picture with him, and that’s the acid test you know, I still think that he is the most charming and exciting man in pictures.
“I can’t stand men who tap their fingers on a bridge table when I am playing a hand. And it certainly annoys me to have a man keep me waiting, for that is a woman’s privilege. I can’t bear to see a man primping or admiring himself in a mirror for that, too, is a woman’s privilege. I don’t like the Show-Off or the Athletic Type, the man who makes a great flourish of over-tipping and the man who bores you to death telling you about his golf score and the number of cold tubs he has had during the day. The kind of man I like—“ and there I regret to say Miss Francis must have decided the conversation was getting a little personal for she hastily skipped to superstitions.
She swears she isn’t the least bit superstitious but just the same 12 and 13 are her lucky numbers. She was born on Friday the thirteenth, and her most successful pictures have had twelve letters in their titles. She has a pair of pearl earrings she wears in several scenes in every picture, but of course she isn’t superstitious, no, of course not. The earrings are only imitation pearls and they were part of the “props” of her first picture, and when she left Paramount for Warner Brothers she asked permission of the studio to take them with her. “I have a feeling about those cheap earrings that might be called superstition—if I were superstitious,” she said. “I feel lost if I go on a set without them until I start work again.” When she isn’t working she doesn’t wear jewelry at all. She particularly dislikes diamonds.
The remarkable thing about Kay is that with all her glamour and prestige in Hollywood she has the most simple and unassuming menage. Kay may not have yachts and race horses and beautiful estates but she probably has more gilt edge bonds and good securities than any of her confreres. It’s most unusual to find so much good common sense in such a pretty head. Of course a great many of the Hollywood meanies who just must have their nasty cracks to enjoy life call Kay “stingy” and cerned, continues to live comfortably but not luxuriously, and continues to be one of the most sought after women in Hollywood.
Kay must have been born with a flair for the “social graces.” When she finished school she took a secretarial course, even mastered in short hand, but instead of going into a business office she secured positions as social security with Mrs. Dwight Morrow, Mrs. Minturn Pinchot, and Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt. Those contacts helped her acquire a poise and dignity that is most helpful to an actress. Working with these society leaders she gained confidence and self-reliance, which qualities finally inspired the courage to resign her secretarial duties and fight for a career in the theatre. Sophisticate at quite an early age—how could she help it dashing madly back and forth to Europe with the Vanderbilts. But with all the excitement of knowing rich people and romping over Europe, and the ensuing excitement of the theatre and the screen, Kay has never once let any of it go to her head; she has always kep her mental feet right on the ground. So it is really little wonder after all that Hollywood’s world sophisticate comes home from her exciting travels and finds romance under her nose.